Less than three months after a contentious statewide election, it seems too soon to be thinking about the next one.

But fortunately, election reformers are, and they were working on it before the first vote was counted in 2014.

It’s a group dedicated to making Maine the first state to employ ranked-choice voting, a technique used to narrow the field in multi-candidate races to ensure that the winner has support from a majority of the voters.

They started gathering signatures just before Election Day to get the measure on the 2015 ballot, but they have wisely decided to pull back and aim for 2016 instead. There is a lot of work that has to be done to educate skeptical voters before a reform like this has a chance of passing.

In a ranked-choice election, voters mark their ballots for as many candidates as they like, ranked in order of preference. Election officials count all the first-place ballots and if someone has more than 50 percent of the vote, the election is over. If there is no winner, the last-place candidate is eliminated and their second-place votes are allocated to the remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate has more than half the votes.

Organizers will have to dispel a number of myths if they are going to succeed.


The first is that this is a scheme to elect a certain kind of candidate. In fact, it’s less likely to affect the winner of the race than it is to affect the way campaigns are run. Since candidates can’t afford to have narrow appeal, they are more likely to engage each other on a wide range of issues than they are in a winner-takes-all race. And since they won’t want to alienate the supporters of their opponents, they will be less likely to run negative ads.

Another myth is that the system would be too complicated for voters. In reality, it’s no more complicated than the decisions everyone makes every day. Whether it’s buying toothpaste or deciding what to watch on television, it’s natural to have a favorite and a second choice or even a third. We do it all the time.

And it will be a challenge to convince people who supported Gov. LePage that this is not just a sour-grapes response to his re-election victory. A ranked-choice system would not affect him (unless he decided to run for a third term in 2020). This would only be for future multi-candidate races. For a reform like this to take hold, it shouldn’t be seen as a partisan issue.

In Maine and all over America, partisanship and negative campaigning are polarizing the electorate and getting in the way of progress. As a state, we would benefit from a better election system that encouraged candidates to bridge the divides.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before that can happen.

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